Learning through an Expanded Arts Program, Inc. (LEAP) is a nonprofit educational services organization committed to improving the quality of public education through a hands-on, arts-based approach to teaching the core academic curriculum. Clean Water-Healthy Environments (CW-HE) is LEAP’s project-based environmental education program which utilizes the wealth of underutilized science resources in NYC – ponds, rivers, and ocean – to enrich and enhance students’ scientific educational endeavors and give them the skills needed to master the Core Curriculum and national science STEM initiatives. In addition, CW-HE will also provide professional development opportunities for their teachers. During the in-school residency, LEAP’s teaching consultants train the classroom teachers in how to effectively teach lab science so that they can replicate the program and inspire more students to love science.
This year, LEAP’s CW-HE was once again a success. LEAP was able to work with two additional schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx– MS 117X, IS 244X, MS 366K, PS/IS 45, and IS 228X. This meant that additional students had the unique and exciting opportunity to design and conduct their own scientific research project.
CW-HE had four key elements:
- Planning sessions: Classroom teachers and LEAP ’s teaching consultants worked closely together to ensure that the program was aligned to the STEM curriculum and was adapted to the specific needs of each class.
- Professional development workshops: Classroom science teachers attended staff development workshops led by water ecology experts at the Hudson River Park Trust in order to improve the teachers’ understanding of scientific concepts, methods, and specific water testing skills related to water ecology. LEAP teaching artists demonstrated effective hands-on classroom lab techniques and the CW-HE curriculum.
- Weekly in-school environmental science sessions: LEAP teaching consultants worked with classroom teachers to develop worksheets and experiments that built the students’ reading, critical thinking, problem solving, and hands-on science skills. These sessions had three main parts; lecture demonstration, testing for pollutants, and analysis of test results. Over the course of the program, students mastered the scientific method and the lab techniques needed by testing for the presence of different chemicals in water and determining the sources of each water samples. In this process, students developed a strong understanding of each pollutant’s impact on the environment and how healthy water environments can be sustained.
- Water Ecology Colloquium: In the last three sessions of the program, students incorporated all they had learned and used their newly developed investigative skills to design and conduct an independent study related to a conservation or environmental issue of concern to them. At the culmination of the program, students presented their research projects to their fellow scientist, expressed their environmental and water conservation concerns, offered individual and community action plans that could alleviate them, and demonstrated all that they had learned in the ‘Water Ecology Colloquium’.
CW-HE served around 750 low-income, minority middle school students in Brooklyn and Bronx.
Approximately 90% of LEAP students get free or reduced lunch, about 9% are classified as special needs, and over 23% are English Language Learners. Of the students we serve, 41.2% are Hispanic, 34.6% African American, 9.9% Asian, 10.4% White, 2.7% American Indian, 1.1% multiracial, and 0.1% other. In some of our schools, over 50% of our students are living in temporary housing, which put them at even greater risk of dropping out of school. As a result of the program, students developed a solid basis of scientific concepts, learned to integrate science and critical thinking in applied learning, and became motivated learners that strive to reach their full potential.
Our original proposal stated that we expect that at least 80% of students will show improvement of scores from pre- to post- CW-HE test. Although only 73% of students showed improvement of scores, at least 14% of students improved by over 50% on their test. There were students who improved a significant 80% on their post-test.
As expected, over 75% of students completed their independent research projects on their chosen conservation or environmental issues. In addition, about 86% of teachers responded in their teacher evaluations and rubrics that they were comfortable replicating the program in the future.
At the end of the program, LEAP collected assessment forms to give students and teachers an opportunity to provide feedback on the effectiveness of CW-HE. All the students and teachers that participated in the program responded positively.
CW-HE were able to not only enrich and enhance the student’s scientific educational endeavors needed to master the rigorous Common Core Curriculum and national science STEM initiatives, but also motivate them to become active in their own learning. Evaluations have proven that the program really is effective and pushes the students to succeed. We look forward to expanding this program to even more schools and students in 2015-2016.